Harris Street Access Issues (copy)

A dispute that has embroiled West Stockbridge was created when the town closed the Harris Street bridge to traffic and converted it to a footbridge, essentially landlocking Truc Orient Express with private property. The parties have reached an agreement to settle the problem until a permanent solution is found.

WEST STOCKBRIDGE — Two business owners locked in an impasse over a privately owned road have come to a temporary resolution that will keep the street open on weekend evenings to allow access to the Truc Orient Express restaurant.

The interim settlement agreement hammered out this month by attorneys for Truc and performing arts venue The Foundry will run through October.

In the agreement, a copy of which was obtained by The Eagle, Foundry owner Amy Brentano agrees to keep Merritt Way open to the public at all times to allow access to Truc, and not close it during outdoor performances — something she had suggested to protect audiences, but which would affect Truc as it begins its takeout service and plans for a full post-COVID reopening.

The agreement also stipulates that Truc could make zoning or noise complaints against The Foundry, “or other legal and administrative remedies, if it chooses to do so.”

It was Brentano’s decision to close Merritt Way that initially drew the town last month into a quagmire of its own making. Three decades ago, town officials closed the Harris Street bridge to vehicles, leaving the Vietnamese restaurant surrounded by private property, its only official public access cut off.

The dust-up has drawn supporters of both businesses into the fray, and sparked accusations of bureaucratic bungling by town officials past and present for allowing such a street grid.

“They’ve pitted two businesses in town against each other,” said restaurant owner Truc Nguyen.

The agreement says Truc and The Foundry will work cooperatively to “urgently demand” that the town reopen public access by vehicle to Harris Street in a way that does not require either Nguyen or Brentano to “waive, sell, transfer or otherwise forfeit any of [their] property rights.”

The town is on the cusp of buying an easement that would allow an entry from Moscow Road — which could be completed by next summer, according to Select Board Chairman Eric Shimelonis. Officials also are planning a feasibility study for reopening the bridge to vehicles.

Meanwhile, the unofficial Merritt Way, used for decades by Truc patrons and maintained by the town, still is a source of concern for Nguyen.

“It’s always going to be looming,” she said of the road, since Brentano owns it.

Brentano said that while she has not yet closed the road for the events, she had considered it from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday evenings, to keep audiences safe from moving vehicles. She decided to hold shows outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic, and to continue to do so during the reopening transition unless there is “pouring rain.”

Town officials did not require The Foundry to obtain a special permit before opening in 2019. When asked if she had any plans to get one, Brentano declined to comment.

Brentano said she was aware of one noise complaint to the town about concert noise last summer; Nguyen filed one last month, also regarding concert noise last summer. Nguyen lives on the property, where her parents opened Truc 42 years ago.

Brentano said she has equipment to measure decibels and is aware of permitted levels. She said last summer that she moved to the other side of her building to keep the noise from affecting nearby homeowners.

The business owners, both trying to bounce back from the pandemic, say they have supported the other for the past two years.

“It’s extraordinarily painful,” Brentano said of the conflict, noting that she will continue to donate her space for fundraisers and other community events. “I’m really not trying to do any damage — I’m trying to support.”

On Facebook, Nguyen said that with this temporary resolution, “I look forward to focusing on things which bring my family and I immense joy, the ability to nourish our friendships and customers through our cuisine and culture.”

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or 413-329-6871. On Twitter